Heel spur

What is a heel spur?

A heel spur is a bony growth at the underside of the heel bone. The underlying cause of heel spurs is a common condition called “Plantar Fasciitis”. This is Latin for inflammation of the plantar fascia. This tendon forms the arch of the foot, starting at the heel and running to the ball of the foot. Plantar Fasciitis is a persistent and painful condition. Interestingly, in some people a heel spur has been present for a long time, but no pain is felt for years until one day the pain suddenly appears ‘out of nothing’.

Symptoms

Heel spur is characterised by a sharp pain under the heel when getting out of bed in the morningor getting up after sitting for a period of time. Walking around for a while often helps reduce the pain, turning it into a dull ache. However, sports, running or walking long distance makes the condition worse. In some cases swelling around the heel maybe present.

What are the main causes?

The cause of heel spurs is excessive strain placed on the plantar fascia over a long period of time, as a result of different factors. These factors include incorrect gait, being overweight, ageing or being in a job that requires a lot of standing on hard floors.  It is usually a combination of any of these factors that will bring on the development of heel spurs.

Who is affected?

Everyone can be affected by heel spurs, however, certain groups of people have an increased risk. For example, Plantar Fasciitis is a common running injury. People who walk a lot are much more likely to have heel spurs or people who play golf or play tennis. Over-weight people are also more at risk for heel bone spurs as our feet are not designed to carry around extra weight. As a result the ligaments under the foot are placed under constant stress, which inevitably will lead to foot problems.

What to do?

In case of heel spurs rest is most important. Active sports, running, long walks etc should be avoided to start with. If you’re in a job that requires a lot of standing, take a few days off work. Rest (or reduced activity) is essential to allow the inflammation from becoming aggrevated.

Furthermore, you can use ice packs (placed on the heel for 5-10 minutes) to ‘cool down’ the inflamed area.  You may take anti-inflammatory medication or apply a topical inflammatory (i.e. a cream) to help reduce inflammation. In addition, there are some simple exercises that should be done daily to help relieve heel spur pain.

Orthotic treatment for heel spurs

The above measures only provide temporary relief. Heel spurs can also be treated by wearing orthotic insoles inside the shoe. Orthotics are designed to correct incorrect gait, in particular over-pronation (rolling in of the foot and collapsing of the arches). Over-pronation is a very common foot condition, affecting at least half of the Australian population. It is a major contributing cause of heel spurs.

Footlogics orthotics are very effective in that the device corrects the foot to its natural position. By supporting the arches properly and preventing excess rolling in of the foot, the plantar fascia is placed under much less strain and stress compared to an unsupported foot. Less strain on the ligament means less pulling away from the heel bone, allowing the inflammation to heal faster.  In addition to orthotic treatment, most podiatrists and physiotherapists recommend a series of exercises to help make the ligaments in the feet and legs longer and more flexible. In turn this will help reduce strain on the plantar fascia.

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